From tomorrow on, I will be a happy man. Grooming, chopping, and traveling all over the world. From tomorrow on, I will care for foodstuff and vegetables. I have a house, towards the sea, with spring flowers blossoming. Two months after this poem was written, March 26th 1989 which was his 25th birthday, the famous Chinese poet, Haizi committed suicide with four books in which one is Walden. Thoreau, the guy has his brain. Haizi commended Thoreau in his poem in the summer 1986. That’s my first impression on Thoreau. At least there are 800 thousands of people who have known Thoreau and Walden by Haizi especially the extraordinary ending of his life in China. I was interested strongly in Walden and his author from then on. In my opinion, Haizi was one of the best poets of that time, and probably of all times. Why Haizi so loved Walden that he couldn’t lay down the book until his last breath? With the enormous question, I have read many literary criticisms about Thoreau and his works later. As time goes by, Little by little I began to understand that whom the guy is and what Walden is.
Walden is a rich and allusive philosophical book. Accordingly, to sort out and delineate the main themes of Thoreau's project and to see the coherence of the whole philosophical outlook that is articulated in so many pithy fragments is an enormous challenge. One of the difficulties in coming to terms with Thoreau is that his philosophy has the character of a system in aphorisms. For me it’s a new experience. I have to always keep alert or nervous extremely, to question, to response, to laugh, to imagine, to meditate, to pause, and to continue it. Whether or not it ought to be called a work of philosophy—it contains a substantial amount of philosophical content. I would therefore like to close this introduction by looking at a passage in which Thoreau gives his own description of a “philosopher’s” calling, at the same time laying out more of his reasons for undertaking the experiment of living at the pond.
“To be a philosopher is not merely to have subtle thoughts, nor even to found a school, but so to love wisdom as to live according to its dictates, a life of simplicity, independence, magnanimity, and trust. It is to solve some of the problems of life, not only theoretically, but practically. ” (Walden, Economy)
This passage, coming early in “Economy,” just after Thoreau’s praise of ancient philosophers as “a class than which none has been poorer in outward riches, none so rich in inward,” seems to present true philosophers (and therefore Thoreau himself) as primarily teachers of voluntary poverty and simplicity. They also practice what they preach, solving “the problems of life” (essential needs for food, clothing, and shelter) by reducing their physical desires. This is what Emerson called Thoreau’s stoicism.
But “love of wisdom” was elaborated on here as living a life of magnanimity and trust as well as simplicity and independence. Magnanimity: greatness of spirit, superiority to meanness and pettiness, and the courage and nobility to make sacrifices, especially for the public good. And trust: a faith in ultimate rightness and justice. These are not merely stoical virtues.
Moreover, in the next paragraph Thoreau writes about the higher aspirations of a man who has obtained the necessities. “Why has man rooted himself thus firmly in the earth, but that he may rise in the same proportion into the heavens above?” (Walden, Economy). The organic metaphors are both strong and clear, as is the romantic sense that nature itself is teaching man to grow and to rise above his roots. From a post-romantic perspective we can also see Thoreau selecting and creating this image as an expression (or creation?) of his own desire for transcendence? He, the author, asks the question, at the same time putting it - sowing it - in the reader’s mind and thus helping and challenging the reader to rise and flower and bear fruit too. Thoreau has ceased being just moral exemplar, and become moral reformer, moral activist, we might say. He has made his book a direct instrument of his audience’s (and his own) transformation. The modern ecologist might add that such personal transformations are necessary because, as Wendell Berry wrote, “Our country is not being destroyed [merely] by bad politics, it is destroyed by a bad way of life.” As other serious modern works of nature writing insist on, he called people to live fully and be true to themselves. He said that “I have rarely met a fellowman on such promising ground — it was so simple and sincere and so true all that he said. And, true enough, in proportion as he appeared to humble himself was he exalted.” He did not believe that labor, property and responsibility made man better or more spiritual. The poorest men of all, he wrote, are those who have “gathered worthless things but do not know how to use them, or to get rid of them, and thus have made their own gold or silver chains.” (Walden, Economy). He thinks “Superfluous wealth can buy superfluities only. Money is not required to buy one necessary of the soul”. (Walden, Conclusion). People are better off poor than wealthy, because the poor haven’t the means to be distracted from what is essential to life. He says that when one hasn’t the means to purchase books and newspapers, one is confined to what is really important in life: one’s own thoughts. So we must be temperate, keep our thoughts and love our life, meet it and live it poor as it is. He stressed that “Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity! I say, let your affairs be as two or three…. Simplify, simplify. Instead of three meals a day, if it be necessary eat but one” (Walden, Where I Lived, and What I Lived for).
According to Thoreau, only the truth will stead us so well. “Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth”, he called. (Walden, Conclusion) What is the truth? I think it should be goodness, chastity and the highest reality in Thoreau’s mind: “Our whole life is startlingly moral….Goodness is the only investment that never fails” (Walden, Higher Laws), “Chastity is the flowering of man; and what are called Genius, Heroism, Holiness, and the like, are but various fruits which succeed it” (Walden, Higher Laws) The highest reality is the present moment of the universe or Nature[include human’s genius] that surrounds us. He wrote that “through this town and see only the reality….In eternity there is indeed something true and sublime…. And we are enabled to apprehend at all what is sublime and noble only by the perpetual instilling and drenching of the reality that surrounds us….Let us spend one day as deliberately as Nature…. If you stand right fronting and face to face to a fact….and so you will happily conclude your mortal career. Be it life or death, we crave only reality.” (Walden, Where I Lived, and What I Lived for) He says, “A command over our passions, and over the external senses of the body, and good acts, are declared by the Ved to be indispensable in the mind's approximation to God”. In Thoreau’s thoughts, if one wants to be free completely, he must give up his sensuous pursuit, must simplify his life and return to nature. Thus he can explore the true meaning of life, achieve self-perfection and enjoy happiness from nature.
Walden Pond, in a peculiar sense, belongs to Thoreau only. For Thoreau, Walden “is earth's eye; looking into which the beholder measures the depth of his own nature.” (Walden, The Ponds) As he wrote, “I am thankful that this pond was made deep and pure for a symbol. While men believe in the infinite some ponds will be thought to be bottomless.” (Walden, The Pond in Winter) For us, Thoreau is a mirror of ourselves which can test our life which is to be or not to be. By exploring his masterpiece Walden I had a new experience about what the essential fact of life is and Thoreau’s thoughts. Although I couldn’t comprehend in its entireness, I will have my own Walden which like the most transparent and bluest ice remains sweet forever in my life. For me, Walden is an interesting subject for contemplation as Emerson “proposes that it be called ‘God’s Drop.’” (Walden, The Ponds) “Its water, which should be as sacred as the Ganges…. Perhaps Walden wears best, and best preserves its purity…. It is perennially young.” Walden is not only the symbol of the chastity of the human but also is the infinite laws of universe. As Thoreau’s poem concludes:
“I am its stony shore,
And the breeze that passes o'er;
In the hollow of my hand
Are its water and its sand,
And its deepest resort
Lies high in my thought.” (Walden, The Ponds)